By the first aid station at the 1K mark, I was hyperventilating. We decided to walk a few steps, grab a cup of water, then go back to an easier pace until the 4K mark, and hit the gas again. Then came the first hill. “My feet are so…..HEAVY” I whined, gasping for air. Through my pinhole of eyesight, which was fading rapidly with each elevation of my heartrate, I could see snapshots of the long, straight uphill road in front of us, the air shimmering with heat above the pavement. It was like something you see in a movie. I was grateful when my vision faded to bright white light and alternating blackness as my heart-rate continued its steady climbed. “At least I don’t have to look at that anymore,” I thought to myself as we began to ascend the small, but gradual hill. At the top, I slowed for the magnificent tiny breeze that flowed there. Caroline took a hard left, and we crossed the first timing mat, signaling our turnaround on the run. I caught a glimpse of a motorcycle cop gazing off into the horizon. I wondered how he managed to stay cool wearing the black uniform in this oppressive heat.
The slight downhill did little to boost my spirits. The air simply stopped moving as we dropped down the incline. I saw the second water station, like a mirage in the distance, and smacked my lips loudly in thirst and desire. Caroline immediately started screaming, “Water! Ice! Both please!” Their response, “No Ice!” Crap. Caroline dumped two full cups on my head, salt running into my already compromised vision, but it felt so damn good. I chugged two cups, and attempted to pick up my knees. There was little fuel in the tank. As we rounded the final turn of our first lap, my friend Thomas Lee, was headed out in the opposite direction. Tom is normally the first person on course to give you a ‘shout-out’, but he was stone-faced. Not even a thumbs-up. I knew he was suffering in this mid-day sun. “one Mile to go, Dixon,” I said aloud.
“Come on, Amy, let’s go!” Caroline urged. “I Can’t! I need to walk! I’m done.” “No you’re not! Use those arms! You’re not walking in front of all these people. Come on girl. you’ve GOT this! Stop talking like that. Almost done.” She smacked my shoulder- hard. With that, I screamed to the ladies handing out water at the third station. “Water, Please!” It was like a magic potion had been dumped on me. Goosebumps gathered on my burning skin. My feet felt lighter. I shrugged my shoulders back and down, and focused on my form. “Let’s do this!” I said to no one in particular. In the distance, the crowds by the hotel and finish line gathered and roared. “USA! USA! DIXON! Go Amy! Go Caroline! Run, Amy, Run!” I could see Shelly holding Elvis off to my left, and heard Jared, Caroline’s boyfriend, a Marine veteran, commanding me to RUN. So I did.
After rounding the turn for our final lap, Caroline gave me the lay of the land. Patricia was way in front of us, and was heading back towards the finish, smiling with her guide running smoothly beside her. I surprisingly wasn’t discouraged. The Brazilians were behind us, and just as we neared the 2 mile mark, the Canadian team trotted past. “Damn” I thought out loud. “She’s a good runner, Amy. Don’t sweat it. Keep going,” said Caroline. I struggled mentally for the next quarter mile, trying to determine if I could either hang behind her or if I should hold back and wait it out. I realized that I was moving slower than I had the previous two miles. My energy was fading, not building. I cursed myself for puking up that energy gel on the bike. Lesson learned.
Christine (the Canadian) was gaining her lead by the step as we rounded the final stretch for home. I grabbed another water. I was breathing so hard, that I aspirated the entire cup, puking, coughing and wheezing. I stopped dead, trying to stop the choking. But I was. Caroline pounded on my back. It helped immediately, and i threw the cup on the ground in frustration and took off as fast as my legs could carry me. “Ok, now when I tell you, you’re going to SPRINT as hard as you can to the finish. Amy, you MADE THE PODIUM! I’m so proud of you. Show them what you’ve got.” “I’ve got nothing; I can’t sprint. No way, ” I squeaked out between jagged breaths. “I don’t want to hear I can’t! You’re doing it. Come on. Use your arms,” she was yelling now.
I heard Jared’s scary Marine voice commanding me to sprint. “Man this couple is fierce,” I thought to myself. I could hear his voice following along, and I picked my head up, tilted my shoulders back, and pushed in front of Caroline. The rules were very specific that she could not cross the finish mat ahead of me at the end. Caroline began the countdown. “We’re there in 50 meters; 20, Lift your arms, Amy, you did it!”
An hour later, the announcer proclaimed, “And our Bronze Medalist in the PT5 Division at the Pan American Triathlon Championships is Amy Dixon!” As USA Team Manager Joan Murray handed me a rose and placed the shiny bronze medal around my neck, I flashed back to that cold pool at Columbia University a short 15 months prior, where Joan and I met. I could barely swim 5 laps without grabbing the pool’s edge in desperation and for lack of air. I hugged Caroline tightly, then squeezed her hand as we covered our hearts, the tears flowed, and the National Anthem played. The best day of my life.
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